Capacity building can be time intensive, but it is a vitally important step in nurturing healthy partnerships aimed at transformational development. Without this step, the heavy lifting required to engage in long-term, sustainable projects too often depends on outsiders. And while long-term engagement provides a platform for a catalytic presence, it can also result an unwanted dependency. Surely someone has written about this in the literature about Asset-Based Community Development . . . oh, here it is. Capacity building, however, has more to do with developing people than building programs. Offering training for a set of skills is important and could be accomplished in a single trip, one visit, a seminar. Developing new attitudes takes time.
A recent participant on a short-term ministry team with us here in Slovakia shared about how meaningful the experience was for her and her sons. In her job she is responsible for leading a local government program aimed at engaging the entire community. She sent to me a copy of a newsletter she had mailed to her employees. She included this line, "We create spaces, places, and programs that allow people - all different kinds of people - to learn a little more about each other, to become more tolerant regardless of race, religion, ability, or age." Perhaps the information I had shared with the team about the importance of engaging cross-culturally has more of an impact than I imagined.
Last month I was practicing the art of being a catalyst while trying a bit of capacity building as well. The project in view has to do with housing and nurturing healthy communities. The conversation focused mainly on housing and how important it was to identify talented, interested, committed local leadership. No small task. In describing the plan, I shared about the importance of breaking down barriers by insisting that the housing plan be inclusive. In context this means having a foundational commitment to including different ethnicities and persons of different religious convictions committed to working side-by-side for a common cause. And then my partner in this conversation drops this bomb: "I do not know of any organization outside the church where people are willing to work together in this way."
As I reflected on these three conversations, I tried to find a place for the church. Or perhaps I was trying to squeeze these conversations into the church I know. And you know what? I am ashamed to admit that they do not fit in the church I know. Hear me now, I am not saying that they do not belong. I am saying that the church I know does not open herself up to developing people with different attitudes and with a commitment towards being more tolerant. And then the dissonance of the third thread. Where, outside the church can you find people willing to work together this way? I suspect you find that willingness in a lot of places . . . places outside the church I know where cultivating beloved community takes priority over insulating privileged opportunity. Cultivating beloved community creates an oasis for travelers on the journey towards the Peaceable Kingdom. It is a goal unto itself that also serves as a reminder of how much further we have to go.